The dead were still being counted in Nice when Newt Gingrich, a potential vice presidential candidate, called for a sharia law ban in the United States.
“Western civilization is in a war. We should frankly test every person here who is of a Muslim background and if they believe in sharia they should be deported,” Gingrich told Fox News.
He went on, insisting “sharia is incompatible with Western civilization" and blamed such terrorism in part on "Western elites who lack the guts to do what is right, to do what is necessary."
To be sure, in a year where the specter of "radical Islam" has hung over the U.S. election cycle, this sort of rhetoric is hardly unfamiliar, and it seems to surface each time a horrific terror attack hits some part of the Western world.
The hideous scenes in the tourist-clogged coastal city in southern France, where revelers watching Bastille Day fireworks were mowed down by an assailant driving a truck, have shocked the world and led to an outpouring of grief and condemnation. The death toll currently stands at 84, with dozens more injured.
French authorities have identified the attacker, who was shot dead in the vehicle, as a French national of Tunisian origin. It's unclear at present what links, if any, he had to jihadist networks, though the online affiliates of the Islamic State have cheered the attack.
The incident, as my colleagues report, adds to a grim catalog of other attacks in the past year-and-a-half in France, which is home to Europe's largest Muslim population. It also comes in the wake of a deadly month of Islamic State-inspired militancy around the world, including strikes on high-profile targets in Istanbul, Dhaka and Baghdad — where, less than two weeks ago, car bombs killed almost 300 people in a crowded market district during Ramadan.
Of course, the terrorism further east didn't generate the same sort of right-wing outrage as the slaughter in Nice.
In its propaganda, the Islamic State has made it clear that part of the agenda of its terror attacks in Europe is to "eliminate the grayzone" of co-existence between Muslims and non-Muslims. Some far-right politicians in the West duly obliged after Thursday's carnage.
Geert Wilders, leader of the xenophobic Freedom party in the Netherlands, tweeted out a call to ban Islam following the carnage in Nice.
The interior minister of Poland's right-wing government, Mariusz Blaszczak, said the Nice attacks were the consequence of “multi-culti policies and political correctness. This is how it ends.”
Their continental colleague in France, far-right leader Marine Le Pen, was a bit more circumspect.
"The war against the Islamic fundamentalism has not begun yet, now it is necessary to urgently declare it," she said in a statement. With national elections less than a year away, her star is rising amid growing security concerns in the country.
Back in the United States, similar notes were being sounded.
"We're dealing with people without uniforms ... we are allowing people into our country — we have no idea where they are coming from. They have no paperwork, no documentation," said Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, repeating his largely fact-free rhetoric over Muslim immigration. "This may be the great Trojan Horse of all time."
Michael Flynn, a retired general who was briefly mooted as a possible Trump running mate, went on Fox News and was almost as provocative as Gingrich.
"I want these leaders in this Muslim world that have this radical Islamic ideology festering, metastasizing, to stand up, and stand up tonight and be counted, and say something to condemn this attack that we have just seen," Flynn said. He added: "We have not set up an international set of strategic objectives to go after this very vicious, very barbaric enemy."
Never mind that the United States and a host of other nations, with France at the forefront, are part of a longstanding campaign to defeat the Islamic State — one whose particular strategic objectives in Syria and Iraq are increasingly being met.
And never mind that myriad leaders and politicians who happen to be Muslim have already condemned the attack. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordered all official flags in his country to fly at half-staff in solidarity with France, a gesture that would likely not be reciprocated in the West in the wake of terror attacks in Turkey.
“These barbarians do not have a place on earth and they should not have,” he said in a statement. “We are all witnessing that for terrorists there are no differences between Turkey and France, Iraq and Belgium, or Saudi Arabia and America.”
That's not a point that fully resonates with the likes of Gingrich or Le Pen, who are more interested in pointing to the danger of an alien enemy, writ large, and the supposed fecklessness of Western governments, than seriously considering the security challenge that awaits. The right-wing populists aren't focused on strategy as much as they are interested in fighting a culture war — and so the calls for mass deportations of Muslims, the demonization of whole communities, will likely continue.
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